WATERLOO — Hawkeye Community College held the grand opening Tuesday of a downtown cafe named for a donor who helped make it possible.
Mac’s Place Cafe is located in the Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center at 120 Jefferson St. The name refers to the R.J. McElroy Trust, which donated $500,000 to construction of the $12.96 million center. After McElroy died, part of the pioneering Waterloo radio and TV broadcaster’s fortune was used to established the trust in 1965.
Board members and employees of the trust as well as students and staff at the center and college officials participated in ribbon cuttings during the event. Samples of sandwiches, wraps, smoothies, macaroni and cheese, and more were offered for attendees. The cafe, at the corner of Jefferson Street and Mullan Avenue, also sells coffee and breakfast items like muffins, yogurt and cereal.
It is open 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every weekday and until 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays to serve adult learning center students and staff. The public is also welcome to stop in for a meal, coffee or snack. Those who make purchases will see the center’s students in action behind the counter.
“Hawkeye started the hospitality management program almost five years ago now,” director Ashley Gracia said during the grand opening. Students who enroll learn skills for the restaurant, hotel, and catering industries, working closely with area businesses. “However, we had one ingredient missing: a working lab.”
That changed when the cafe had its soft opening at the end of April. “Students are now able to apply what they learn in the classroom,” she noted, as they actively work on such things as customer service, inventory controls, point of sale systems and marketing. Madison Scott, a 2018 graduate of the program, manages the cafe.
In addition, students in the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, or I-BEST, program are spending time working in the cafe. That includes English language learners and adult basic education students. “The practical skills students learn ... will help them land a job, and that’s what’s exciting,” said Gracia.
Including the donation to the center’s construction, the McElroy Trust has given more than $2 million to Hawkeye over the years, said President Todd Holcomb.
He praised “its legacy of giving and its tremendous support of Hawkeye Community College. We are extremely grateful for your very generous support.”
“We really appreciate this opportunity to put Mac’s name on this place,” said Jim Waterbury, a McElroy Trust board member. “Mac would have loved this. The only thing he would ask is that you raise a toast of mac and cheese in his honor.”
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